6 Family-Friendly All-Inclusive Resorts We Love
Think of it as a one-stop shopping spree through paradise. All-inclusive resorts stay true to their name—throwing in food, drinks, entertainment, and activities for one price. Little wonder they’re such a popular choice with families. A simple way to help ease the burden of non-stop helicopter parenting, these resorts provide supervised care for younger children as well as daily activities and clubs for teens and tweens. And, because almost everything is built into the initial rate (spa treatments, high-end activities like wave runners, expensive bottles of wine, and other luxuries often come as add-ons) and there’s no tipping and no signing bills, you won’t give a second thought when your kids want to order extra sodas, ice creams, or smoothies. (Well, there is the calorie factor, but that’s a whole other story.) And let’s face it, more freedom for the kids equals more relaxation for you. The only downside? Because of the sweeping size and scale of most of these resorts, you likely won’t get the most personalized, customized experience. And exploring outside the property’s grounds may take a backseat to your already-purchased comfort. Most properties, however, offer excursion desks to help you plan at least one family adventure. But if you’re devoted to finding a laid-back way to enjoy family time, here are our choices for the best all-inclusive resorts to visit right now.
1. Reflect Krystal Grand Cancun, Mexico
Reflect Kristal Grand Cancun, Mexico. (Courtesy of Reflect Kristal Grand Cancun)
Just under a year old, the Krystal Grand Cancun resides on the southern tip of Punta Cancun, walking distance of downtown. Some of the nearly 400 rooms and suites provide kid-friendly features like bunk beds and step stools for sinks. Almost every room has ocean or partial-ocean views of Bavaro Beach, and the resort’s Unlimited-Luxury philosophy offers 24-hour room service and a constantly restocked minibar. There are four pools to choose from, including the adults-only infinity pool and a kids’ pool. If you’re restless, join in the daily beach volleyball and soccer games. Or check out any one of the number of classes, from cooking and mixology to Mayan history and astronomy. The supervised Explorer’s Club for kids between 3 and 12 affords you well-deserved “me time” and the Core Zone Teens Club, is equipped with a pool table, air hockey, foosball, and videogames. In addition to the six dining options on site, your rate offers inclusion (reservations needed) to the Hacienda El Mortera Mexican restaurant, which is a five-minute walk from the hotel and included in the hotel’s price. (reflectresorts.com/en_us/resorts/mexico/cancun.html)
2. Melia Caribe Beach Resort, Dominican Republic
Melia Caribe Beach Resort, Dominican Republic
A tropical paradise with access to Punta Cana’s Bavaro Beach, in addition to beachside and pool-facing rooms, this sweeping resort offers The Level suites with access to private spaces and upgraded services. The Caribe Tropical offers a vast assortment of activities for kids and adults, including eight tennis courts and an 18-hole golf course. Horseshoe tournaments, beach volleyball, and even candle workshops are among the mix of daily activities. Or take advantage of the resort’s beachside locale with kayaking, canoeing, windsurfing, and sailing. What makes this destination stand out, though, is its interactive waterpark, Splash Island and the children’s Adventure Park, The Kid’s Club offers supervised care for ages 8 months to 4 years old, 5 to 8 years old, and 9 to 13 years old, with each day culminating in family Olympics on the beach. Dining is auspicious, with two buffets and 11 a la carte restaurants to choose from. (meliatropicalcaribe.com)
3. Mohonk Mountain House, New York
Mohonk Mountain House, Ulster County, NY. (Courtesy Mohonk Mountain House)
This relaxing lakeside sanctuary sits in a secluded mountain preserve in the Hudson Valley. It’s just a two-hour car ride from Manhattan, but with its sweeping views of the Shawangunk Mountains and glacier-formed Lake Mohonk, it feels worlds away from urban life. More Victorian castle than rollicking resort, the rooms, suites, and small cottages—many with private balconies—are low-tech affairs designed for inner peace. But it’s the daily activities that make Mohonk stand out. To wit: archery, rock-climbing, biking, ice skating, fishing, cross-country skiing, tennis, snowshoeing and—for the brave—tomahawk throwing. That’s to say nothing of the 85-plus miles of the grounds’ hiking trails. There’s no shortage of water activities, too. Take a boat out on the lake, dip in the indoor pool, schedule a forest bathing session, or relax in the Spa’s eucalyptus steam room and dry rock saunas. (Treatments are not included in the all-inclusive price). A Kid’s Club, which has morning, afternoon, and evening sessions, accommodates children from 2 to 12 years old. The Teen Program includes guided rock scrambles, disc golf, tennis clinics, and hikes for kids aged 13 to 17. At night, the older kids can mingle in the Teen Lounge to play video games, watch movies or just hang out. Dining options are plentiful with a buffet available for all three meals. You can also picnic al fresco for lunch and make a reservation in the Lower Dining Room for the nightly three-course, farm-to-table dinner. (mohonk.com)
4. Club Med Sandpiper Bay, Florida
The original all-inclusive resort, Club Med is still going strong after all these decades. Geared towards active families, it sits on the St. Lucie River, midway between Orlando and Miami—making it a perfect stop if you want to spend a few extra days in Disney or South Beach. Waterskiing and wakeboarding, paddle boarding, kayaking, and group boating lessons are just a few of the ocean activities. You can also sign up for surfing, tubing, and sea scooters on the river for an extra cost. Staying active on land is no problem here. Daily activities include volleyball, tennis, golf, and even trapeze school. When you’re ready for a break, there are three pools on the property, including one for adults only. There are programs for kids between the ages of four months to 17 years, though only the Mini Club and Cub Med Passworld,(ages 4 to 17), are included. The restaurants are limited to the pool-front Marketplace buffet and the Riverside Grill & BBQ, where reservations are suggested. (clubmed.us/r/Sandpiper-Bay/y)
5. Blue Waters Resort & Spa, Antigua
Blue Waters Resort & Spa, Antigua. (Courtesy Blue Waters Resort Spa Antigua)
This posh resort on Soldier’s Bay, situated in the northeast corner of Antigua, feels wonderfully secluded, but it’s only a short drive from St. John’s, the island’s capital. A family-run business for 25 years, it retains its storied elegance while projecting a youthful, modern enthusiasm for all types of families. The staff at the Blue Waters is especially noteworthy, many of whom have been at the resort for decades and make it feel extremely personable. The 17 acres of tropical gardens are enticing, but the beach, known for its powder-soft sand, is the star here. Nine different pools are scattered around the property, including one for adults only and a beachfront pool with views of the Caribbean. Four of the others each coincide with block of hotel rooms and suites. Water sports include snorkeling, windsurfing, and kayaking. And for landlubbers there’s tennis, a dedicated yoga pavilion for when you need to unplug, and a PGA-rated golf course. The Creche Kids Club is for children between 14 to 47 months and costs extra, but the Blue Waters Kids Club, for 4- to 12-year-olds, is complimentary and includes a line-up of daily activities. The Spa at Blue Waters offers high-end treatments for adults but also provides mini bathrobes and non-toxic manicures for little divas-in-training. The food is high-quality at the three restaurants with a more casual dining experience at the beach pool for lunch. (bluewaters.net/resort)
6. Beaches Turks & Caicos
Miles of sandy white beaches and the third-largest barrier reef in the world, Turks & Caicos is better known for trendy luxury than family fun. The Beaches property on the island’s north shore, however, bridges this divide with a 75-acre resort featuring five different villages, each with their own unique accommodations. Not only can you swim and splash in the glimmering turquoise of Grace Bay, water sports like kayaking, windsurfing, hydrobiking, paddleboarding, and snorkeling are also included in the price. The resort houses six different pools, including one which is strictly for adults, but it’s the massive, 45,000 square-foot Pirate Island waterpark with swim-up smoothie bars, waterslides, and a surf simulator, that the kids will be talking about weeks after they get home. The youngest in your crew will also appreciate the Sesame Street partnership, which includes shows, parades, and treasure hunts. While the Kid’s Camp offers supervised child care from certified nannies, teens and tweens can duck into the well-stocked game room to play foosball, air hockey, and basketball. They can also dance the (early) night away at the under-21 Club Liquid, before it turns into an adults-only bar for late-night partying. There are a dizzying 21 different restaurants to choose from and 15 bars. With everything from pizza and burgers to pate and lobster on offer—not to mention food trucks parked at the waterpark—nobody will find any reason to complain. (beaches.com/resorts/turks-caicos/)
Harry Potter Fans: Here's Where You Should Travel Based on Your Hogwarts House
So you’re the ultimate Harry Potter fan but can’t decide where to take your next trip? First of all, true Potter fans should be aware of Pottermore.com: the official fansite where you can get sorted by the Sorting Hat into your Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry house. Your house is based on a variety of personality quirks and preferences, meaning you’ll fit in with the overall atmosphere of the house you’re sorted into. Once you know your Harry Potter Hogwarts house, you’re on the road to finding the perfect travel destination. Because let’s be honest, a gutsy Gryffindor may have very different travel goals from a humble Hufflepuff, and likewise a rational Ravenclaw’s travel bucket list might not overlap with a shrewd Slytherin’s vacation goals. Have no fear, Potter fans: read on to find out the perfect travel destination for your Hogwarts house. Best Destinations for Gryffindor: Utah or Nicaragua Being the house of Harry, Ron and Hermione themselves, Gryffindors are known as the brave, adventurous, daring and chivalrous of the Hogwarts lot. You have nerve and are very well-rounded, so only a very adventurous destination will do. Gryffindors are an active bunch, so we think you’ll love an outdoorsy travel destination like Utah. Hike through the otherworldly red-clay rock formations in Bryce Canyon, practice your rune-reading at an ancient petroglyph site in Moab or produce a patronus in Zion National Park. For a bit more adventure, Nicaragua is another great spot for a Gryffindor getaway. You can try out some exciting Muggle activities like volcano boarding down the active volcano Cerro Negro, swimming between wild islands or canoeing through jungles, where you might just spot some fantastic beasts. Best Destinations for Ravenclaw: Greece or Ethiopia Ravenclaw, you are the most intelligent members of the wizarding world. You have a thirst for knowledge, valuing brains and information over guts. To that end, we suggest a cultural travel destination for your house. Greece would make an ideal vacation for Ravenclaws. You can spend your time learning the (somewhat strange, we know) teachings of Muggle philosophers and perusing their ancient human sites, like the amazing Acropolis – Professor Binns would be proud. Ravenclaws are also deeply interested in diverse cultures and ancient history, so consider travelling to the cradle of Muggle civilization: Ethiopia, where some of the oldest human ancestors came from, a crossroads rich in culture and religion. Visiting cultures such as the Surmi, Mursi and Karo people offers a chance to see how local communities have preserved ancient traditions, while the 1600-year-old rock churches of Tigray show just how long the religious history is in Ethiopia. Best Destinations for Hufflepuff: Canada or Taiwan Dedicated and loyal, Hufflepuffs are the all-around nicest witches and wizards. They tend to be trusting, kind and value justice and fairness, and for that we think the best travel destination for a Hufflepuff is somewhere social and friendly with good nightlife. Canada would be the perfect travel destination for a Hufflepuff. Canadians are known the world over for being some of the friendliest Muggles, and they value equality and diversity. Travelling Hufflepuffs can enjoy the relaxed, peaceful pace of Vancouver; practice their bubblehead charms in the waters of Lake Ontario; or head to Newfoundland to pay homage to beloved Hufflepuff Cedric Diggory’s most famous spell, turning a rock into a labrador. Taiwan is another destination Hufflepuffs will love for its egalitarian and friendly attitude. And as the first country on the Muggle continent of Asia to legalise LGBT marriage, it is Dumbledore-approved. Night markets, such as Miaokou in northern Taiwan, are brimming with food and friendly locals, and a great place for Hufflepuffs to experience Taiwan’s welcoming attitude firsthand. Best Destinations for Slytherin: Tokyo or Fiji Okay, so Slytherins sometimes get a bad rap around the world due to one or two evil wizards who came through your house, but let’s not forget Harry Potter himself was one request away from Slytherin. You are a house of ambitious, determined and highly inventive witches and wizards. And you love what’s cool, unique and exclusive. We think a great travel destination for Slytherins is somewhere that values tradition as well as exclusivity, and where better for that than edgy Tokyo? Centuries-old shrines stand alongside sleek skyscrapers, and you can practise potions while sipping a cocktail with an amazing city view somewhere like Asahi Sky Room. Slytherins are also highly driven leaders who sometimes need a true escape from the wizarding world. In that case, Slytherins should visit a resort island like Fiji or the Seychelles, where they can just rest their wands for a while. Harry Potter Travel Destinations for All Wizards (and Muggles Too!) No matter which house you are sorted into, there are a few Harry Potter travel destinations that will appeal to everyone. You can’t go wrong with a trip to Great Britain, Harry’s homeland. There are numerous Harry Potter sights in Britain, but don’t miss a trip to the Warner Bros Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter, an absolute must for any Potterhead. This magical studio tour leads you through all of the sets used in the making of the Harry Potter films as well as an animatronic workshop where you can interact with multitudes of fantastic beasts, from a grindylow to Buckbeak himself. While you’re in England, don’t forget to swing through King’s Cross train station to visit Platform 9¾, where you can have your picture taken pushing your luggage cart through the brick wall and onto the Hogwarts Express platform. And head up to Edinburgh, Scotland, where J.K. Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books. You can even book a stay in a Harry Potter-themed flat while you’re here. In Florida, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is another spellbinding experience. This theme park brings the magic of Harry Potter to life, with strange and wondrous experiences at every turn and plenty of rides that take you right into Hogwarts itself.
As a little boy visiting the Gettysburg National Military Park for the first time, I didn't need to know that this piece of Pennsylvania farmland was the site of the turning point of the Civil War, or how many people had died here over the course of three days in July 1863. On that first trip, historical facts and statistics were trumped by the words "Devil's Den." My father's gentle description of the firefight that had occurred amid the towering gray boulders there, where Union and Confederate soldiers had once crouched for cover, was enough to inspire a blend of fear, awe, and respect that I associate with the place to this day. As an adult, I've caught myself saying, "I don't believe in ghosts, but I believe in Gettysburg." Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is located just north of the Mason-Dixon line about an hour and 20 minute's drive from Baltimore and two hours and 20 minutes from Philadelphia. Here, in early July, 1863, General Robert E. Lee led his rebel Army of Northern Virginia across the Pennsylvania border in an attempt to seize Washington, D.C., and force a Union surrender. What happened here, with American fighting American, often hand-to-hand, changed the course of U.S. history, with Lee's army eventually forced to retreat. Each summer, as the battle anniversary nears, the museum, the cemetery where President Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address in November of 1863, and the winding trails of national parkland play host to armies of tourists and history buffs. And, yes, for better or for worse, children will be cajoled, bribed, or dragged into the action. But Gettysburg ain't Disney. How you introduce kids to a place like this can mean the difference between igniting a spark of historical curiosity and sending them screaming for the snack bar. Here, some expert advice on showing your little ones how to tread lightly on hallowed ground. PLAN YOUR VISIT IN ADVANCE I spoke with Barbara J. Sanders, education specialist at Gettysburg National Military Park, for her suggestions about the best way to introduce children to this historical site and the troubling chapter in American history that it represents. Sanders suggests visiting the park's website (nps.gov/gett) as well as the website of the park's partners, the Gettysburg Foundation. "By planning the trip together and allowing each member of the family to select an activity of interest, everyone will become involved and excited about their upcoming visit," Sanders suggests. She also recommends reading some age-appropriate books about the battle of Gettysburg, or about the Civil War, together prior to the visit. At Gettysburg, or What a Girl Saw & Heard of the Battle is an autobiographical account of the battle written by a woman who witnessed it as a young girl—appropriate for grades four and up. Jimmy at Gettysburg is the true story of Jimmy Bighams, who also experienced the battle first-hand as a boy—suitable for grades three and up. For parents who could use a little grounding in Civil War history, Ken Burns's documentary film The Civil War remains the gold standard for its clarity, elegance, and emotional wallop. For a deeper dive, Shelby Foote's trilogy, The Civil War: A Narrative, reads like great fiction. The park's website also features a robust "For Teachers" section intended to help with planning class trips but easily adapted by parents who are wondering where to start, what elements to teach their children, and what they might want to leave out. ARE YOUR KIDS READY FOR GETTYSBURG? "There's something at Gettysburg for all ages," Sanders insists. She points out that even very young kids often shout "Abraham Lincoln!" when they see the president's statue in front of the park's visitors center, and even if that's their only touchstone here, they can see the spot at the Soldiers' National Cemetery where he delivered his Gettysburg Address in November 1863, and even stand in his footsteps at the train station where he arrived in town. Of course, for elementary and middle school kids, there are themes presented at Gettysburg that will require either preparation or explanation. A film, dramatic 360-degree painting, and museum all help to put the conflict, the issue of slavery, and the sheer loss of life that occurred here in their historical context. The National Park Service and the Gettysburg Foundation offer a variety of children's education programs in summer that allow young visitors to learn as much—or as little—as they feel is right for them. "The focus of the trip should be to connect to the place and the people, and ignite a spark of interest in the minds of the kids," says Sanders. CHILDREN'S PROGRAMS For a summertime visit to a place as big as Gettysburg (a typical auto tour covers 24 miles), a friendly guide and some kid-friendly activities may be as essential as sunscreen, insect repellent, and water. Sanders recommends that you consider booking a personalized tour of Gettysburg. You can book a Licensed Battlefield Guide in advance, or take your chances with a first-come-first-served sign-up each morning at 8 a.m. The guide can accompany you in your car on a two-hour battlefield tour—it's essentially like having a teacher along for the ride to lead you to the most important sites and answer your family's questions. Gettysburg also offers free summer ranger field programs—sign up first thing at the visitors center information desk as space is limited, and pick up Junior Ranger activity booklets. A GETTYSBURG ITINERARY The most common approach to Gettysburg National Military Park is to start at the visitors center and museum, then embark on the 24-mile self-guided auto tour (an annotated map shows you the route and points out the major battle sites along the way). While the museum is a must-see with an extensive collection and interactive education stations, and visitors should try to plant their feet on key spots around the park, such as the site of Pickett's Charge (the doomed Confederate attack that turned the tide of the three-day battle), there are other, better ways for kids to really experience Gettysburg. "My recommendation is for families to find a specific person, or a specific regiment that they are interested in learning more about," says Sanders. As many families have experienced when visiting a museum dedicated to, for instance, immigration, or tolerance, or slavery, sometimes tracking the progress of just one person through a difficult chapter of history is far more rewarding than trying to understand the bigger picture, especially for grade-school children. "For example, if a family is coming from Alabama, they could research the 15th Alabama Infantry and follow their path from July 2, 1863 as they launch repeated attacks on the end of the Union line, occupied by the 20th Maine Infantry," Sanders suggests. "Or if a family is interested more in the farmers and civilians, they could learn about the John Slyder family, and then visit their farm at the base of Big Round Top, or Abram Bryan, a free black farmer whose house and barn was located near the very center of the Union line on July 3." Got a dog? Tell your kids the story of Sallie, the canine mascot of the 11th Pennsylvania Infantry, and a visit her monument near Oak Ridge. LET YOUR KIDS TAKE THE LEAD Give the little ones the elbow room to experience the place on their own terms—as Sanders suggests, and as my own parents did for me all those years ago. You may not entirely understand why your child is, say, fascinated by a particular field, or artifact, but be assured that they are processing this complex chapter in our history the very best they can. A visit to Gettysburg is not a time for lectures. Whether they come home with a solid sense of history's sweep or just the indelible memory of one soldier's few days on this rolling farmland, you'll have ignited a spark. HOW TO GET THERE Gettysburg National Military Park, Museum and Visitor Center entrance at 1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg, Penn., visit nps.gov/gett.
Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty’s Castle Gets a Makeover
Sleeping Beauty isn’t the only one with a set of fairy godmothers. Since January, Disneyland’s Imagineers have been hard at work refurbishing the princess’s castle, and last week, ahead of the hotly-anticipated opening of Galaxy’s Edge on 31 May, the results of the Anaheim icon’s montage-worthy makeover were finally unveiled. Rendered in faded blues and pinks before the latest update, the once-muted exterior has since gone technicolor, with vibrant hues, a new roof, and a dash of pixie dust for good measure. More Magical Than Ever Now boasting cotton-candy pink turrets, cobalt-blue shingles, and gold accents at the entrance, along the battlements, and on the roof, Disney’s first-ever castle retains its earlier color scheme—albeit in heavily-saturated form. “It’s as though the entire castle has been enchanted,” Walt Disney Imagineering art director Kim Irvine told the Los Angeles Times. Not only does the new palette give the nearly 64-year-old structure a fresh look, it gives it a vertical boost as well. Per the official Disney Parks blog, the crews “used an ages-old painting technique called atmospheric perspective to visually heighten the castle,” Irvine said. “We warmed the pink hues on the lower towers and gradually added blue to lighten the colors toward the top.” A New Palette Opened in 1955, the castle originally featured tan and grey stones, slate-blue turrets, and a pale-pink facade, and though it’s been revamped multiple times throughout the years, the building’s color scheme remained subdued—the stuff of reality, not fairy tales—until the park’s 50th anniversary, when the pinks began to pop and a smattering of lively blue shingles were installed to break up the sober grey roofline. The castle got another facelift ten years later, but its vivid hues soon faded in the California sun—an issue the design team was eager to avoid this time around, applying a clear coat to protect from UV rays, according to the OC Register. “When they come to Disneyland, [people] expect something that’s different than what they would see on their city streets or in their downtowns,” Irvine told the Register. “We have to push the color, we have to push the fantasy.”
What’s the best Father’s Day gift for a dad who loves to travel? Well, my credentials for weighing in on this question are at least baseline: I happen to be a father and a travel editor. First of all, “travel” for Father’s Day doesn’t have to mean covering a great distance. I’m here to tell you from personal experience (which in this case happens to be supported by clinical research) that neither a fancy meal nor carefully (or not) chosen “stuff” can compare to taking an easy day trip or one-tank escape to a place your dad loves—or a place he’s never been before. Experiences Are Better Than Stuff You’ve read the studies (or, at the very least, you’ve read the summaries of studies in listicle form on social media): Meaningful experiences make people happier than obtaining possessions. A major study at Cornell University was even more specific: “Doing makes you happier than owning.” My Most Memorable Father’s Day In support of “doing” rather than “owning,” please take a look at the photo above, which illustrates my most memorable Father’s Day. The picture of a medieval garden might suggest that my family sprung for a flight to Spain. Nope. All we had to do was take the half-hour drive from our home in the Hudson Valley to one of my favorite museums, the Cloisters, in upper Manhattan. Full disclosure: My wife and two daughters don’t exactly love the Cloisters. Medieval art is an acquired taste, and to date only I, among the four of us, has acquired it. But you don’t have to love ogling paintings and sculptures of angels, martyrs, and the Holy Family to enjoy the Cloisters. We had a lovely few hours strolling the gardens in full mid-June bloom, grabbing a bite to eat at the cafe, and taking in the epic views of the Hudson River from the museum's terraces. Talk to Us: What’s Your Dad’s Favorite Day Trip? Have you got a special day trip in mind for your dad this Father’s Day? Post a comment below. If you’ve got a photo, even better: Post is to Instagram and tag it #mybudgettravel.